The race to space was not without the unfortunate casualties here and there. Nevertheless, as a whole, it has been a very safe program. The first deaths experienced by the United States, in the NASA program were those of Command Pilot Gus Grissom, Senior Pilot Ed White, and Pilot Roger Chaffee on January 27, 1967, when he Command Module interior caught fire and burned, during a pre-launch test on Launch Pad 34 at Cape Kennedy. At that time there was no interior latch, so the men could not escape the burning module. It was a terrible tragedy for the NASA program and the nation as a whole. The United States had been involved in a “race to space” with the Soviet Union, and the fire was a terrible setback…not to mention the horrific loss of life.
On April 24, 1967, just a few short months later, the Soviet Union also experienced a tragic set back, when Soviet Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov is killed when his parachute failed to deploy during his spacecraft’s landing. Komarov, a fighter pilot and aeronautical engineer, was testing the spacecraft Soyuz I at the time of the catastrophic failure of the parachute. He had made his first space trip in 1964, three years before the doomed 1967 voyage. After 24 hours and 16 orbits of the earth in Soyuz I, Komarov was scheduled to reenter the atmosphere, but ran into difficulty handling the vessel and was unable to fire the rocket brakes. It took two more trips around the earth before the cosmonaut could manage reentry. When Soyuz I reached an altitude of 23,000 feet, a parachute was supposed to deploy, bringing Komarov safely to earth. Unfortunately, the maneuvering problems he had caused the lines of the chute had gotten tangled and there was no backup chute. When Soyuz I reached an altitude of 23,000 feet, a parachute was supposed to deploy, bringing Komarov safely to earth. Komarov plunged to the ground and was killed.
Things in the Soviet Union were different than in the United States, and Komarov’s wife had not been told of the Soyuz I launch until after Komarov was already in orbit. Sadly, she did not get to say goodbye to her husband. Komarov was considered a national hero, and there was vast public mourning in Moscow. Komarov’s ashes were buried in the wall of the Kremlin. Space flight is dangerous, a fact that is well known to all who venture into its corridors. Despite the dangers, both the Soviet Union and the United States continued their space exploration. The United States landed men on the moon just two years later. Everyone was determined to see the program through, as they continue to be to this day.